When it comes to shifting the transportation sector to electric vehicles, commercial fleets are probably among the most hanging fruits. More often than not, they have consistent routes, reserved off-hours parking, and cost much less to drive and maintain.
But for many commercial operators, electric vehicles remain a wild card. Gagan Dhillon and Andrew Blejde co-founded Synop to minimize unknowns and accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in commercial fleets. In an exclusive with TechCrunch, the company today announced a $10 million funding round led by Obvious Ventures and joined by Wireframe Ventures, Congruent and Better Ventures.
“Transportation electrification is a massive undertaking, especially for companies operating large fleets,” said Andrew Beebe, CEO of Obvious Ventures. “Synop is tackling the biggest hidden infrastructure hurdles for companies looking to make and manage this transition seamlessly.”
Fleet operators, Dhillon and Blejde found, have a lot of questions that need to be answered before making the switch to electric vehicles. “How do you extend the life of this vehicle, this asset? And then, how do you operationalize the daily life of this asset? Where should he be? What time should it charge? How long does it charge for and back? said Dhillon. “All of this is orchestrated through the Synop platform.”
One of the company’s first clients is Highland, a Beverly, Mass.-based electric school bus fleet provider, which raised a Series A round of $253 million in early 2021. company offers fleets of buses via a subscription model that includes charging infrastructure, electricity operation and maintenance. Synop works with Highland to optimize billing and routing.
But there will not only be school buses on the Synop platform. Dhillon and Blejde design their software to work with virtually any type of vehicle and manufacturer. “We want to build something that’s vehicle class agnostic, so class 2 through 8 on the commercial vehicle side,” Dhillon said. “We also want to create something that is break-independent. You can bring an electric semi to Synop for drayage use cases – we have people bring electric garbage trucks, which is really surprising.
The company is also working on a feature to manage vehicle-to-network, or V2G, connections. Electric vehicles have long been seen as a potential asset for grid operators, one they could pay handsomely to access. Grid-connected EV batteries could help stabilize the flow of electricity in the event of equipment failure or downed power lines, giving grid managers time to respond with more sustainable solutions. They can also help offset peaks in demand. All of this gives fleet operators the ability to monetize their assets when they are not in use.
But no one who owns an electric vehicle, especially fleet managers, wants to wake up to find that their vehicle’s battery is dead when they need it most. “Our software will help you as a fleet operator to optimize when to push [electricity] return [to the grid] because you don’t want to drain your battery at 4 a.m. and then not have a state of charge for a route you’re supposed to drive at 7 a.m.,” Dhillon said.
Blejde said Synop collects and analyzes data to help optimize the use of electric vehicles across different fleets. But it will also keep a customer’s data separate if they request it.
Synop can also help fleet managers decide which routes are ripe for electrification. “Give me 100 of your routes, then let’s figure out the roadmap to electrifying them,” Blejde said. “We ingest the data, we look at the route, we can give a confidence interval on how electrified it is, and then give that answer to customers. [to] board their vehicles and help them operationalize them.
The goal, Dhillon said, is to help electrify and manage commercial fleets so operators can realize all the potential savings that electrification can offer.
“Most competitors today are building a very top-down approach where they want to go only with their products and not support interoperability,” he said. “Ultimately, we think the big opportunity in this space is for someone to create some sort of neutral software layer for commercial electric vehicles and chargers.”
“We’re trying to position ourselves as you know, for lack of a better term, the plumbing of this industry,” Dhillon said.